Cheese is a simple thing to make from the milk of cows, goats, sheep, or yak, llama and horse if you're feeling a bit adventurous! It's best to start simple and get the steps of the fresh cheeses mastered before jumping in at the deep end, unless you have chooks or pigs who would appreciatively eat your mistakes. Fresh cheeses, or cheeses which are not cooked or aged, are very simple to make, and you can be eating your delicious results in as little as 12 hours from paddock to plate.
You should first source your equipment. Anything I use in my cheese making only will be used for cheese making and nothing else. Hygiene is very important, especially if you want to make your cheeses from raw milk. I use 1 tsp of chlorine bleach in 10L of cold water and soak all my equipment in it before use, but only a few times a year. Otherwise, very hot water, dish soap and a good scrub is adequate. You can also use the tablets which are sold for sanitising nappy pails, and those sold for sanitising brewing equipment.
In order to avoid contaminating your milk with wild yeasts, it is best not to do any brewing or bread baking in the same area as cheesemaking. The wild yeasts will feed the starter culture you add to your milk when you make more advanced cheeses, and will often impart a bitter taste to the final product, as well as causing the curds to expand with air, and push themselves out of your pot! Even something as benign as a bit of mouldy bread or the mould that grows on citrus fruit can cause a problem for your cheese. If this does happen, your chooks will be more than happy to eat the mistake, and you must then sanitise all your equipment before your next batch of cheese.
I use a good quality stainless steel pot for heating my milk. An insulated base is good protection against scorching when you need to bring to a high temperature, which will taint or ruin your cheese. Poor quality stainless will eventually become pockmarked due to the corrosion that the milk acid will cause, and the little holes will be places that can become hard to sanitise. That said, I started out with an inexpensive 'big red shed' variety 12L pot, and it lasted about 4 years of being used 3 to 4 times a week before it became noticeably pockmarked and I discontinued using it. So it may be a good place to start if on a limited budget. Aluminium will impart an odd taste to the milk, so best to avoid it.
I use a stainless steel spoon for stirring and a stainless steel strainer to drain the curds. The only other thing you may need to purchase if your kitchen isn't already outfitted, is a thermometer that covers a range from 0C. A candy thermometer starts out too high, as many cheeses are only heated to the 28-32C mark.
Goats' milk can be used either from fresh or frozen, as it freezes well without separating. Cows' milk is really best from fresh. If it's skimmed really well, it can be used for some fresh cheeses, though with mixed results. It's best if the milk is not more than a few days old for fresh cheese making. As it ages in the refrigerator, it will begin to develop its own culture, or bacteria which changes the flavour of the milk and hence the cheese. For more advanced cheese making, this can actually be a good thing. But back to basics!
In the next article we have the recipe of a really simple cheese that you can try out before moving on to more advanced cheeses.
Andrea Gauland has been milking goats and making goats' milk cheeses for eleven years and holds cheese making classes. See her websitefor more information.